India’s competition regulator on Thursday fined Google $161.9 million for anti-competitive practices related to Android mobile devices in “multiple markets.”
The Competition Commission of India, which began investigating Google three and a half years ago after a complaint by two junior associates and a law student, said in a press release that Google requires device makers to pre-install its entire Google Mobile Suite and mandates the prominent placement of those Apps “amounts to imposing unfair terms on device manufacturers” and thus “violated the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act.”
India is the largest market for Google by users. According to research firm Counterpoint, 97% of the country’s 600 million smartphones are powered by Google’s Android operating system.
Google pledged in 2020 to invest $10 billion in the South Asian market over the coming years. It has already funded up to $5.5 billion to local telecom giants Jio Platforms and Airtel.
The Competition Authority’s handling of the much-anticipated report itself made headlines last year after a draft of its findings was sourced and released by the press. In response, Google sought to take the regulator to court over the leak of the report, protesting “the breach of trust” affecting its ability to “defend itself and harming Google and its partners.”
In its Thursday statement, the regulator said it also found the following during its investigation:
Google has maintained its dominant position in the online search market, resulting in the denial of market access to competing search apps in violation of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act.
Google has exploited its dominant position in the app store market for Android operating systems to protect its position in general online search in violation of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act.
Google has exploited its dominant position in the app store market for Android operating systems to enter the market for non-OS specific web browsers via the Google Chrome app and protect its position, thereby violating the provisions of Section 4( 2)(e) of the law violate law.
Google used its dominant position in the app store market for Android operating systems to enter the OVHP market through YouTube and protect its position, in violation of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act .
By making pre-installation of Google’s proprietary apps (specifically Google Play Store) conditional on signing AFA/ACC for all Android devices manufactured/distributed/marketed by device makers, Google gives device makers the ability and incentive to develop and sell diminishes devices running alternative versions of Android, ie Android forks, thereby restricting technical or scientific development to the detriment of consumers, in violation of the provisions of Section 4(2)(b)(ii) of the Act represents.
The watchdog examined whether Google had become dominant in five different markets: licensable smartphone operating systems, app store, web search services, non-OS specific mobile web browsers and online video hosting platform in India.
The regulatory authority concluded that Google is dominant in all of these relevant markets.
The antitrust watchdog said in its statement that device makers should not be forced to install Google’s bunch of apps, and the search giant should not deny vendors access to its Play Services APIs, monetary and other inducements.
The regulator’s order could slow Google’s pace of growth in the market, analysts said. And it’s unclear how Google can comply with the remedies without making some fundamental changes to its business strategies.
Google is facing increasing scrutiny from governments around the world as policymakers begin to worry about the reach of tech giants and assessing whether it’s hurting local businesses. Google has lost its appeal against a record $4.3 billion fine in the EU for using Android’s dominance to thwart competition. It is also subject to the new German regulation targeting large companies.
Two years ago, more than 150 startups and companies in India started forming an alliance and toyed with the idea of opening an app store to reduce their dependence on Google. The pushback prompted Google to delay enforcing its new Play Store billing rule in the country.
Jagmeet Singh contributed to the report.